How Loretta Lynch is leaving her mark on civil rights, in record time

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Attorney General Loretta Lynch doesn’t waste any time.

Before she was even formally sworn in last year, her office issued unprecedented indictments of top FIFA officials on charges of corruption, and the collective soccer world lauded her as a godsend—someone finally was able to tackle the shady business of international soccer.

"The pantheon of world soccer has a new hero. To the names of Pele, Maradona, Cruyff and Messi, add another: Loretta Lynch," read an article in Politico Europe. "[She] is destined to go down as the most consequential woman in the history of the game."

In retrospect, the early FIFA move foreshadowed what would come to define her time in the office as the nation's top prosecutor. Stepping into the role just over a year ago, as the Obama administration was on its way out, there was a sense that she wouldn't drag her feet in her legal battles.


If she was going to leave an impact, she would have to do it in record time.

And this week, Lynch proved she is doing exactly that. In a press conference on Monday, Lynch announced that her office had filed a lawsuit against her home state of North Carolina in response to its so-called "bathroom bill," which mandates people only use bathrooms that match the sex they were assigned at birth.

"This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms," she said in the conference. "This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them—indeed, to protect all of us."

Clearly placing the lawsuit in the context of America’s hard-won civil rights achievements, she dismissed the anti-LGBT law and other like it as last-ditch attempts to reverse the tide of history, in the same vein as segregation and the Jim Crow laws that followed the Emancipation Proclamation.


The fact that Lynch grew up in North Carolina only made it more personal; as a child, she has often recalled, her parents used to take her to anti-Jim Crow protests in the state.

"Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself," she said, before continuing:

Some of you have lived freely for decades.  Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead.  But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.  Please know that history is on your side.  This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time.  It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together.


The reaction to her words was swift and—among those with progressive inclinations—unanimous. The New York Times said the comments "seemed to go further than other administration officials in casting the quest for transgender equality as a civil rights movement."

As such, the lines have clearly been drawn.

Though her tenure has been short, and is by no means promised to carry over to the next administration, Monday marked a watershed moment. Whereas former Attorney General Eric Holder's tenure was arguably defined by the cases he didn't bring, Lynch has shown that once she got in the driver's seat, it would be a shame not to press the pedal to the metal.

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That history stretches far back. One of the biggest cases she prosecuted as a federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York was later credited with sparking the decline of then-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's support among black residents. Abner Louima, a 30-year-old Haitian immigrant, was beat by police outside a nightclub, then later sodomized with a broomstick in 1997. The case sparked international attention. Lynch was able to get four convictions out of the case, sending one officer to prison for 30 years.


More recently, as the U.S. District Attorney of Brooklyn, she met personally with the family of Eric Garner, whose choking death brought outrage in the city. As Attorney General, she sued the city of Ferguson, Mo., after city officials tried to back out of an agreement to allow federal oversight of the police department, following the police involved shooting of black teenager Michael Brown. The issue was soon resolved.

Her other credentials: she presided over the New York City's largest mafia bust of all time; scored convictions in many international terrorism cases; has prosecuted several politicians; and has been described as "sex traffickers' worst nightmare.”


“Loretta might be the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists, and still has a reputation for being a charming people person,” President Obama once said of her.

In interviews, past colleagues have commented that she is not into the politics of her role in public life at all, or the attention it brings.


"Loretta does not seek the limelight," current Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson recalled to the Guardian about his time working under her.

"Loretta is solely about doing justice," he said.

Lucky for us, she's doing it damn well.

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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